The Grenadier is one of those celebrity pubs, a London institution only a rung or two down from Buckingham Palace, on a par with the inflated walrus at the Horniman.
It’s in every vintage pub guide you can think of, from Green & White to Taverns in the Town by Alan Roulstone.
The story (which we haven’t checked in any detail) is that it was built as a mess for officers in the First Regiment of Foot Guards, became a pub proper in 1818, and has been trading ever since.
And yet, we’d never been.
The last time we attempted a survey of the hidden mews pubs of Belgravia, the Grenadier let us down: being tiny, and being famous, somebody had decided it needed to close while the Winter Wonderland event was taking place in nearby Hyde Park.
It nearly defeated us this time, too, concealing itself in one of those folds in Google Maps that send you walking round a place without ever finding it. Readers, we may have bickered, but eventually an alleyway appeared that hadn’t been there moments before, and we slipped through the portal.
Three Americans, one shirtless, were bellowing at each other: “Bro! Dude! There’s a freaking bug on my back! Dude!” One of his friends poured the remains of a pint over his head and called him a pussy. They staggered away into the night. The scene was set.
The mews was quiet, but the pub was throbbing, steaming, taut and ready to pop. We struggled through a gap in the door and through a gap to the bar and ordered a round of astonishingly expensive but very decent Timothy Taylor Landlord, served with businesslike efficiency.
We squeezed through the crowd to a relatively less densely packed corner and leaned against two inches of shelf over the heads of a group of American students, two lasses and two lads, all too tall to fit their knees under their tiny table.
Nearby, a party of nine Dutch students (conspicuous flashes of orange) had somehow gathered around a table for two and were forced to part like the tide every time a fresh party came steaming towards the dining area, and then away from the dining area once they’d realised it was a dining area.
Scowls all round: this pub would be perfect if everyone else would just piss awf.
There is a perfect pub here, beneath the overpopulation. Like others nearby, it hasn’t been given a corporate makeover, or tidied to blandness. The corners are still gloomy, the surfaces are dinged and rubbed, and every flat plane, including the ceiling, is covered with tat. (Superior tat, mind – earnest, well-earned militaria, rather than plastic clocks.)
Wax jackets, rugby shirts and piles of shopping bags.
Expensive perfume mingled with wet dog and hot gravy.
Conversations weaving together, encrypting each other as they pour out into a hot fog around the lightbulbs.
We did not see Madonna or Prince William.